Extraditing Charles Taylor

Published: March 21, 2006


Last week, Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called for Nigeria to extradite the former president and warlord Charles Taylor to face war crimes charges. Mr. Taylor, who has been living in a Nigerian government guesthouse since 2003, is wanted on a range of charges relating to his decade-long West African rampage, which unleashed campaigns of torture, rape and dismemberment in Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone and on his home turf, Liberia.
In a just world, Mr. Taylor would have already been tried, condemned and sent up the river.
But the world has never been just, and this case is complicated. When Mr. Taylor was under siege by rebel forces in 2003, the United States, Britain and Nigeria arranged for him to get asylum in Nigeria, under the correct assumption that his quick exile would reduce the bloodshed. Nigeria gave Mr. Taylor a safe harbor on the condition that he stop sending his minions out to rape, pillage and plunder.
A report last year gave some weight to the argument that Mr. Taylor hadn't stopped his bad ways. The Coalition for International Justice charges that Mr. Taylor tried to destabilize Liberia, influence last year's elections and build a regional army. Specifics are vague, but it is true that Mr. Taylor's ex-wife, Jewel, was elected to the Liberian legislature in the same elections that swept Ms. Johnson Sirleaf to power.
There's no law against Jewel Taylor's running for office. And it's tempting to think that it may be better just to let this sleeping dog lie. After all, Mr. Taylor still has many loyalists in Liberia with no qualms about taking to the streets again.
But Ms. Johnson Sirleaf is taking a courageous, very risky step. It is incumbent upon America and Europe, which say they support justice in West Africa, to make sure that she and the new Liberian government get the necessary security aid, including United Nations troops if necessary, to handle any pro-Taylor backlash.
For West Africans, who have endured more than a decade of war, there's no justice without peace.